Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

laughter, turn-around & beginner’s heart ~

This photo made me laugh out loud. And it’s not simply because I find moose one of such wonderful creatures. They’re just loveable, but not wimpy. Doughty warriors for their chosen, the males crash those huge palmate antlers and go at it. And the calves are endearingly ugly — the face that only Mom & Dad would brag on.

It’s partly the turn-around, of course: the idea that ‘moose hunters’ would be moose equipped w/ all the usual hunter gear, and w/ a human trophy. Turn-arounds are an American humour standby — think of all the riffs on shaggy dog stories, guys walking into bars, etc. We like to be surprised. It makes even a toddler laugh out loud.

We need to laugh more. We need to share happy, goofy things like moose hunter photos. Even if they didn’t really result in 16 wrecks in Maine (the story that came with this photo). In this time of desperate economic need, and hungry children, and 1 in 3 Americans living below, at or within 50% of the poverty line, we need to reach out to each other through laughter.

So here’s my suggestion to you today: send someone the best joke you know. It can be a blonde joke (I give you permission), a moose joke (post that one here!), a knock-knock joke you stole from a 6-year-0ld. It can be the worst of puns, the best of wit. Just do it. Make someone laugh today. It’s the best medicine (and karma) in the world ~

bicycles, Bodhi day, and possibility 101

Bodhi Day — or the celebration of the day the Buddha achieved enlightenment — is coming up. December 8th, FYI. And that’s important to me. Because Bodhi Day celebrates possibility.

That’s what Bodhi Day is all about, really — what we can & might become. Here’s this everyday guy — well, okay, so he’s a prince, but still — and he manages to renounce that (being a prince! Think about it!), leave his beloved family behind (spoiler alert: they show up later in the story), and go off to seek — and ultimately find — spiritual enlightenment.

I don’t have a princedom. Or even the princess or queen equivalent. But I do have a predilection for good coffee, expensive chocolate, China black teas, and other creature comforts not to be found at the Dollar Store. I like my Kindle, my iPad, and other tech tools. I do not like cheap ink pens. Or ill-made journals. So for a long time I’d pretty much given up the idea I could ever be a very good Buddhist. But my brand-new bicycle, a Handsome SheDevil, is helping. Seriously!

I used to ride bicycles like an obsessive when I was a kid. My mother & father would take the three — then four — of us girls out to the old JDP compound by Tan Son Nhut Airport. The grown-ups would play pinochle or canasta, drink cocktails, be grown-ups in pre-buildup Saigon, and I would ride my bike. For hours — around and around the compound, beside the marshy land on one side, down the streets lined with houses built on stilts over carports.

Some days my dad would pile my bike into the old Buick’s trunk and take me over to Tante Alma’s. Mother and the girls would also crowd in, but for me it was just me, the bike, and the promise of riding. Tante Alma lived with Oncle Emile just off the square by the Presidential Palace, which I would circle over and over again. There was an iron fence around the palace, and guards everywhere, but no one bothered the skinny blonde kid on the turquoise Schwinn, riding her heart out.

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nieces … & beginner’s heart ~

The movies featuring family holidays are all disturbing, even when comedy is the intention: Thanksgiving stress, Christmas dysfunction, loud drunks and childhood grievances. So that’s all too often what we expect. And sometimes we don’t even realise it until it’s so obviously a perfect day that I wonder what I expected…

This has been three of the nicest high-energy days I can remember. Family and food and more family and more food and … and… and. :) Until you would think you’d be full. And, as a friend punned on her FB, I am. ThankFULL. Bear with me as I tie this back to beginner’s heart…

Sometimes people have the bad luck of feeling sorry for me, as I ‘only’ have sons. Are you kidding? I have two of the nicest sons possible: funny, smart, thoughtful, and nicer than you can imagine. They phone regularly, tell great jokes, buy the BEST presents (you should see my bee pins!) and generally are perfect. Really.

‘But you don’t have daughters,’ they say with pity. No, I have (wait for it) nieces! (And two GREAT nephews, I might add, so they know I never take them for granted :)) I have these amazing young women — several! — whose mothers and fathers raised them to be the incredibly smart, funny, thoughtful and nuanced people they are today. They drive long  distances to see me. They have lunch with me in town. They give me hugs that speak louder than their deeply private selves are able to. They Facebook me and send me their writing and generally are the best gift you can imagine. And I had nothing to do with this.

Sometimes, in the hectic patter of our everyday lives, we forget that wonder and grace surround us. In our frantic pursuit of life, liberty and the right to happiness (not contentment, a very different flower…), we can become so set on what ‘should be’ that the very real joys of what ‘is’ elude us.

This holiday weekend that too often becomes a tag game of retail darkness, an excuse to OD on tryptophan, a nightmare of family expectations, can also be a gentle reminder. Happiness may be right in front of us. It just takes a re-framing, a refusal to be the victim of circumstance. And nieces. And nephews. And sons.

 

‘even air is political’ ~

photo Christian Science Monitor

In my life, I’ve had a lot of jobs. But my current one — teaching at a state university — is by far the one with the most impact. And the one thing I’ve learned in the 20+ years I’ve taught at universities is that we are the grown-ups. We are the models for appropriate behaviour, for what is right and what we expect from our students. And until today, I’ve never written a letter to a university that expressed my shame at being associated with the profession. Today I did.

I was at a conference this past week, returning only late yesterday evening. It was a wonderful, if bittersweet, meeting, where old friends came together to celebrate the best things about education. I returned home to this picture. And it rang familiar, haunting chords…

When I was a student, President Reagan called in the Guard — many of whom were Vietnam Vets — to use whatever force was necessary to quell a protest in People’s Park. UC Berkeley student James Rector was killed, and Alan Blanchard was blinded. According to local hospital records, no Berkeley police were seriously injured, despite claims to the contrary by Berkeley police.

We seem doomed to repeat history. I didn’t understand Reagan’s acts then, and I don’t understand why — and how — we could return to that divisive time of hatred and ‘failure to communicate.’ What it gains us.

I teach university students. They are, as all human beings are, the beloved sons & daughters of mothers & fathers. They are grandchildren, wives, husbands, mothers & fathers themselves, often. They are learners of American culture, of its strengths and its flaws.  They are us.

My beginner’s heart is deeply troubled by the violent hatred exhibited these days: marchers against public schools (the envy of many countries for their egalitarian entry system), marchers being beaten and pepper-sprayed, the shooting of Congressional representatives. In my university town, we recently suffered a tragedy: the airplane crash of two beloved coaches. At at time when students are reeling with loss, Westboro Baptist Church prepares to descend on us. My students — many of them devout Christians — struggle in class discussion to make sense of what kind of Christianity this is. How a religion founded in love can become a means of propogating hatred. The non-Christians struggle as well, as do I.

Because I feel the same way, and I see parallels in a country founded on the right to assembly, the right to free speech calling down violence on its children. On its poets. On its teachers. This is not my idea of freedom. This is not my idea of love. This is not what universities are about, and it most definitely should not be the example we set for our young. Or the world.

Today, love somebody. Love your family, your spiritual advisor, your significant other, your child. Love the person in front of you at the cash register. Love the guy on the bus who’s snoring. Love everyone you come across, if you have the energy. And do it in the name of beginner’s heart. Take a step across the aisle, the street, the political or religious divide, and love somebody. Take America back.

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